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The “Good” God

The Ancient Greek philosophers had concepts that Christianity assimilated into its own teaching to help penetrate deeper the mysteries of faith. One such concept is that of the Good. Aristotle said that all our actions aim at some end. The criteria for discerning the Good according to Aristotle is such that it is the final end we desire in all our willing. Therefore, the Good is desired for its own sake and not as a means for something else. Aristotle called happiness the Good. St. Thomas Aquinas building on the  thought of Aristotle, said happiness is to possess and be possessed by God. For Aquinas to possess God is to see Him face to face in the beatific vision in heaven. This is man’s perfect happiness, his beatitudo(beatitude).

Our true human beatitude demands that we do not treat other goods as an ends in themselves. Unfortunately human beings, says St. Thomas, tend to look for happiness in other candidates other than in God. He outlines some typical goods we tend to mistake for happiness such as fame, wealth, honour, power and pleasure.

 In the Gospel this Sunday, we see that there were people who were invited to the splendid wedding feast of the king’s son. In light of St. Thomas’s teaching, we can say this banquet is the equivalent of the chief good, the beatific vision. The rich and abundant notions of a feast in the parable takes on a new significance for us, it speaks of the lavishness of being in union with God at the end of time.

The Gospel also echo’s what we have just said about St. Thomas’s teaching on the candidates for happiness and the good. In the parable many people turn down the invitation by the King because some had to attend to their business while others maltreated and killed the servants who were sent to carry their invitation. Can we not say the first group of men were tempted by the desire for wealth and fame that a business could bring? Similarly did the other men kill the servants because they sought some form of power? The Gospel is showing us what St. Thomas articulated, that man often chooses other goods in lieu of the supreme Good, God.

Both St. Thomas and the Gospel is challenging us to question what things in our life are preventing us from receiving God’s invitation to eternal happiness; to the banquet and marriage supper of the lamb. We may have certain idols in our lives that we mistake for happiness and for God. If this is true we are being hindered from union with God, by rejecting God’s invitation to share more deeply in his inner life. Fortunately, as servant of God Catherine Doherty says, “every moment with God is a moment to begin again.” While we still have time on this earth we can repent and accept our Heavenly Father’s invitation to share his divine life. Like the good and the bad who were invited to the feast may we be one of them and not the one without the garment, the one who did not repent and thus was disconnected by his choice from God’s banquet of his presence.

Gospel Reflection for the 28th  Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A (Matt 22: 1-10) 

Who needs to be reminded of that?

A few years ago I went to visit a friend. My friend looked at my crucifix with a certain distaste saying “You Catholics are always promoting that horrific and dark symbol of suffering, who needs to be reminded of that?”

It is true that Catholics venerate and exalt the Crucifix to remind themselves of Jesus’s death and suffering, however, it is far more than a dark and horrific symbol. It is a reminder of the Divine self-gift of love which is 
the gesture by God that invites us to believe and trust in His mercy and love, opening ourselves to his salvation. This Sunday’s Gospel for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross speaks of this Truth: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). Hence, when we see the Crucifix we ought to believe in the Father’s loving gift, of that which is most precious to him, his only beloved son.

This belief in the Divine 
Love of God made manifest on the Cross is indispensable for our salvation. The Crucifixion is something we all need reminding of because of original sin, which has left us wounded with a distorted vision. Remember how Adam’s sin made him see God in a distorted way as if he was vindictive and harsh? How Adam hid with Eve behind the bush in shame and how we do the same after our personal sins? As a result of this lack of trust on our part in God, God wanted to prove his love and mercy for us by sending his Son. This is why St. Thomas Aquinas says, of Jesus’ suffering and death on the Cross, that Man now “knows how much God loves him and is thereby stirred to love Him in return, and herein lies the perfection of human salvation.” Similarly another theologian, the Cistercian Roch Kereszty, says that owing to our wounded state from original sin “man needed more than just a moral exhortation and a divine offer of grace to convert him” he needed “tangible evidence for the reality of His infinite compassion and of His holiness.”

Therefore, it is the witness of Divine 
Love that summons us out of our imprisoned guilt and despair towards salvation. Catholics lift up the Cross of Christ  in order to exalt God’s love and mercy which we need to grasp in order to have the confidence to open ourselves to God’s life saving mystery. Who needs to be reminded of that? We all do.

Gospel Reflection for the 24th  Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A (John 3: 13-17)

Ash Wednesday Hunger

HungryWith Ash Wednesday looming in sight one of the brothers was asked what the season meant for him and he said with a laugh “hunger”. His ‘smart answer’ in a sense is right because Lent is about getting in touch with the hunger for God buried in every human heart. This hunger according to St. Thomas Aquinas is the result of us being created for God. Creation is God’s way of inviting us into the sheer ecstasy of being in loving friendship with Him. This will be achieved when we see God as He really is face to face. The Angelic doctor teaches that the true desire in all our willing is really this ‘beatific end’ whether we are aware of it or not. So on Ash Wednesday when the Lord summons us through the Prophet Joel in the first reading  to “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning” (Jl 2:12) we could say in a sense God is calling us to cleanse our hearts from all its disordered desires and vices so that we can, through his mercy, experience that internal hunger for Him as our beatifying end.

 

But we know all too well that we tend to fill this hunger for God with other things. These other things Aquinas says are typically pleasure, power, wealth, honour, fame and glory. The last three are particularly appropriate for our Ash Wednesday liturgy since Jesus in the Gospel tells us not to undertake prayers, penances and fasts for the sake of gaining people’s good opinions and praise. Instead of seeking applause and honour for our works, which is nothing but ambition, our Lord wants us to be virtuous, that is acting in accord with His will. He wants us to realise that what truly matters is our interior dispositions and not what other people see us doing. He desires us to be hungry for Him and not for people’s praises.

 

I am reminded of an episode in the life of St. Therese of Lisieux. In her autobiography she recounts an episode from her community life: she felt like rushing to do a certain chore but sacrificed not doing it in order to give another sister the opportunity to be charitable. Neither did she want to draw any attention to herself. Despite her hidden sacrifice she was castigated by a fellow nun for being so lacking in generosity.  When Jesus calls us to act in secret for our Father not only do we loose the admiration of others we can even become misunderstood. This is part of carrying our daily Cross by which God’s grace sanctifies us and makes us joyful in our hunger for God. 

 

Lent is about rending from our hearts  the many things in which we seek our happiness apart from God. It is about rediscovering  the hunger in us for God as our ultimate happiness. This hunger instils in us a sense of wonder and awe because of the reality that lies before us. The Christian singer Laurie Mangano sums up this hungry heart when she sings, “ I can only imagine what my eyes will see when your face is before me, I can only imagine… surrounded by your glory what will my heart feel? Will I dance for you Jesus or in awe of you be still? Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall? Will I be able to speak at all? I can only imagine.”

 

Reflection on First Reading and Gospel for Ash Wednesday – Year A (JL 2: 12-18) and (Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18)